A small study shows promising results that in the near future doctors will be able to predict Alzheimer’s disease accurately using only a simple blood test. As of now this is only a short-term test—it predicts Alzheimer’s disease or other kinds of cognitive decline within the next three years or so. Nonetheless, within these parameters the blood test results maintain a high degree of accuracy for predicting the development of Alzheimer’s disease. Such a diagnostic test could be used to catch at-risk patients before their diseases have had much chance to progress.
The study in question was conducted over a period of five years by researchers from the University of Georgetown. They monitored 525 men and women all 70 years old or older. The researchers regularly collected blood from these patients and monitored who developed Alzheimer’s disease and who remained healthy. The collection of blood samples over the course of these five years revealed that persons that developed Alzheimer’s disease or other cognitive declines had higher levels of 10 different kinds of cell membrane lipids. Looking for these indicative cell membrane lipids allowed researchers to accurately predict whether or not a patient would develop Alzheimer’s disease with up to 90 percent accuracy.
Over the years scientists have sought a way to easily and accurately identify Alzheimer’s disease while it is still in its early stages. This has led to a number of unique diagnostic tests, including examining the thickness of a patient’s retina, and even testing patients to see whether or not they can smell peanut butter in both nostrils.
Although successful thus far, research is still in its early stages with regards to determining the accuracy with which blood tests can predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. A larger study with even more patients will be required to further examine this diagnostic strategy.
If indeed successful, this research comes at a critical time for elderly patients. Currently it is estimated that one in three senior citizens will die with some sort of dementia. Of all the different kinds of mental illnesses that cause dementia, Alzheimer’s is the most prevalent, and the problem is not going away. America is currently aging. This is in part due to increases in overall health that result in greater longevity. It is also due to how the Baby-Boomer generation is fast reaching retirement age. With these factors in mind, one study estimates that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease may triple by 2050.
Currently there is no cure of Alzheimer’s disease. However early treatment can help patients delay the disease onset and thus maintain more independence and a higher quality of life. Current medication options include a range of cholinesterase drugs that help mitigate problems with reasoning, lapses in memory, and confusion. Vitamin E is also sometimes prescribed to patients. Finally, patients with Alzheimer’s disease can initiate their own treatment by engaging in mentally-stimulating activities such as puzzles, games, and other learning activities. Of course the sooner a patient becomes aware of his/her condition, the faster these treatments can be administered and the more effective they are. Therefore the newly-developed blood tests which can accurately predict Alzheimer’s disease years in advance could greatly better the prognosis for millions of people.
By Sarah Takushi